6/21/2021
The Illness Lesson

The Illness Lesson

An atmospheric novel involving an experimental girls' school. A stress related skin condition, an unscrupulous doctor, flocks of mysterious red birds and a fraught father/daughter relationship add to the mix. At times, this is difficult to read with a disturbing subplot of possible abuse. But recommended for an unusual and thought-provoking experience.

6/14/2021
Reproduction

Reproduction

What makes a family? This ambitious novel has an innovative experimental structure, including intertextual play, song lyrics, rap and slang, with the emphasis on character rather than plot. It’s a transformative style of storytelling which gives a fresh spin on topical themes of multiculturalism, race, me-too, and white privilege, guaranteed to challenge your expectations - if not your perceptions.

6/7/2021
Scabby Queen

Scabby Queen

Take a canvas, add daubs of Citizen Smith, splatters of a rousing pop anthem and frame with It's a Wonderful Life. Not only a portrait of a complex and divisive woman, but a story with plenty to say about society, gender and celebrity. The narrative comes from multiple perspectives, drawing the reader into the lives of all the characters, even those for whom Clio Campbell was a chance encounter. I don't normally do politics, but I loved this.

5/31/2021
Boy Parts

Boy Parts

Being a professional society photographer should be a 'nice' occupation. But that’s not how Irina sees it. She has to make artful creations which become ever more violent. Vivid descriptions of the drug scene and night life of Newcastle make this a tough read, but hang on in there for the enduring friendship between Irina and her friend Flo. However it is compulsively readable even as you may hate what you read.

5/24/2021
This is Happiness

This is Happiness

Noel drops out of the seminary and returns to sleepy Faha. The coming of 'the electricity' brings lodger Christy. Whilst Noel looks for his first love Christy seeks out an old love to make amends. An enchanting picture of village life where nothing happens quickly and every person, however odd, is accepted. Warm and wonderful.

5/17/2021
Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker

Three starkly different but linked characters narrate the story of Billie Jean's life. They use a conversational tone that is punctuated with dark and sometimes comedic wit. Her inexplicable arrival to an isolated and strange town locked in its own disturbed dysfunctional bubble, triggers tragic events and betrayals that affect everyone. Her sudden and mysterious departure however heralds, in contradiction, the hope of redemption and healing.

5/10/2021
In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan

Set in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, this book hits its stride at around midpoint. Raani's narrative deploys a vocabulary that belies her age, yet retains a child's curiosity and innocence. Her descriptions of the natural world are beautiful and vivid, contrasting sharply with later depictions of human deprivation, cruelty and violence. Few stories have moved me to tears, but this saga of human resilience almost succeeded.

5/3/2021
Real Life

Real Life

Wallace has escaped his abusive small town past in the south by travelling light years to study in the Midwest. But what should feel like a success brings unhappiness and frustration with the underlying racism he encounters every day in his tutors, fellow students and even his so called friends. The atmospheric writing creates a tension that simmers in the heat of summer by the lake. I was totally immersed in this beautifully crafted novel.

4/26/2021
Friend

Friend

A beautiful insight into the life and mores of a communist society. I followed a judge who has been asked to settle a divorce between a young couple, but hesitates to do so to protect their young child. The judge’s search into the possibilities and limits of giving a helping hand made me reflect on the importance of the individual versus the interests of society. Alternately compassionate, moralistic, flowery, but above all so human.

4/19/2021
A Season on Earth

A Season on Earth

Plagued by sexual obsession, fantasies and guilt, an imaginative Melbourne teenager grows up in a narrow-minded and old-fashioned Catholic environment. Adrian's thoughts and dreams are so over the top that they sometimes become funny. But I did wonder if he ever could be happy in the 'real' world.

4/12/2021
The Death of Vivek Oji

The Death of Vivek Oji

This authentic novel is based on the autobiographical experience of growing up and identifying as genderfluid in Aba, Nigeria. The intense emotion of losing Vivek washes all shades of outrage and guilt into a single portrait of a beautiful soul. A heart-wrenching universal experience of being diminished by the death of a child and friend who was never truly understood. Prepare yourself for a deeply immersive read in every way.

4/5/2021
Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar

This candid portrayal of a fraught mother-daughter relationship is unflinching in its details of bad mothering and childhood neglect, as narrated by the daughter. There is acerbic black comedy amidst the bitterness, and vivid sensual descriptions as potent and spicy as a hot curry, but some readers may be disturbed by the voyeuristic descriptions of female bodily functions.

3/29/2021
Cleanness

Cleanness

Thrumming with life’s questions, we watch the narrator wrestle in shameless clarity with his own intimate desires, inviting us in and yet held at arm’s length by his sense of private pain. Stand-alone chapters magnify and crystallise his raw anguish and alienation. An unsettling, illuminating exploration of love and anonymity; fear and solitude, crafted in heat-seeking prose.

3/22/2021
Don't Call Us Dead

Don't Call Us Dead

A powerful collection shaping raw emotions into fierce and jagged poetry which deals with being both gay and black in the USA. Though there is much about HIV/AIDS, prejudice and police brutality here there is also a lot of love and tenderness.

3/15/2021
Pine

Pine

I found this a mysterious, atmospheric and moving story about Lauren, a young girl and her alcoholic father, living in a remote spot in the rugged Highlands. Lauren misses her unconventional mother who disappeared when Lauren was just a small child. She has few friends and when one of them goes missing in the woods strange things happen ... And that's what grabbed me, drew me in and I was hooked.

3/8/2021
Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong

A drug dealer is shot in the Cause Houses housing project in New York in 1969, the gunman an elderly drunk and church deacon who taught him baseball. There is violence, poverty and racism here - but it’s also warm and funny. The story reveals that everybody - blacks, whites, Italians, Spanish, church goers and criminals - are united by a shared history and common humanity and they are all described with humour and affection.

3/1/2021
The Sea Cloak

The Sea Cloak

Beautifully written stories which at times take on an almost ethereal quality. The joy of living overwhelms the feeling of frustration and fear in an oppressive occupation. Family life and the love of the Palestinian homeland are all important and the book gives us a rare insight into what it must be like to live in Gaza today. One to put onto your 'must read' pile.

2/22/2021
One Year of Ugly

One Year of Ugly

My eyes were on stalks as I read this story about a family of Venezuelan illegal immigrants living under the radar in Trinidad. The romance between Yola and Román is tenderly portrayed, the lush beauty of the island vividly evoked. Bawdy and irreverent? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it's a rare treat of a book which tackles some weighty issues in a very entertaining way.

2/15/2021
An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An invented future world becomes an incisive commentary on the unequal history of our real world - the decks of the spaceship are literally stratified. This analysis of the multigenerational trauma of a slave society - and how people cope with it and even rebel – will draw you in with its empathy. It’s also a fast adventure story with strong, unexpected characters who will change preconceptions about gender and sexuality.

2/8/2021
Of Strangers and Bees

Of Strangers and Bees

The three-stranded narrative is told from the perspective of three different characters: an exiled Uzbek writer, an ancient magical dervish, and a honey bee. I found the complexity of the structure challenging at times, as the connection between the separate stories wasn't immediately obvious. Yet as the tales began to overlap, I willingly accompanied the Uzbek writer on his quest for answers; as eager to discover the truth as he.

2/1/2021
Escape Routes

Escape Routes

I loved these surreal and quirky short stories. Naomi Ishiguro has the knack of making the dream-like seem remarkably normal and feasible.

1/25/2021
Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age

Confident, fast and easy – and also very unsettling. Surface embarrassments become deeper self-deceptions as white wokeness gets satirised pretty comprehensively in a plot that will keep you guessing. The 3-year-old is written brilliantly too – I’d like a sequel about her growing up.

1/18/2021
Piranisi

Piranisi

Piranisi shares his castle home with the sea, the birds, the fish, the statues, the skeletons and one other person simply named the ‘Other’. However, times are changing and strange things are happening: they may no longer be alone. A magical, beautiful and atmospheric novel with a revelatory ending. One to read as much for the writing as the story. I absolutely loved it.

1/11/2021
A Girl Made of Air

A Girl Made of Air

Roll up for a magical mystical tour with the travelling circus! The unusual hybrid of genres reflects the weird and wonderful circus acts and the dual life of the performing artistes. Dickensian melodrama blends with Gothic fable, myth and folklore, whilst underneath the glamour of the Big Top and the spell of the dreamlike prose lie nightmare topics - suicide, sexual abuse and childhood neglect - so best not to read before bedtime.

1/4/2021
To Calais, In Ordinary Time

To Calais, In Ordinary Time

This book is a time machine. It's like stepping into the pages if an illustrated medieval Book of Hours. A peasant, a serf, a highborn lady and a knight embark on a journey with a group of archers, a captive and a notary. Each carries their own guilt, passion and ambition. Each sheds their role in a feudal society along the way. But the Black Death is coming to meet them. A compelling tale - and I found the language quickly became familiar.

12/28/2020
I Wish You All the Best

I Wish You All the Best

This book starts with a bang when Ben comes out to their parents and it all goes much, much worse than they imagined. The anxiety and pain of working out who you are and how you fit in - if you’ve forgotten how intense getting through adolescence is, this book will bring it all back. The gentle romance and the warmth of more enby-accepting adults offset the tough start.

12/21/2020
How to be a Kosovan Bride

How to be a Kosovan Bride

While reading this book I wondered how your culture, or the past, can affect your life or marriage? In a style which is at once detached but which also draws you in, the reader is shown, on a personal female level, the complexity of a traditional society on the rebound from a cruel war. Interwoven with history it tries to capture both sides, old and new, without favouring one or the other. A unique portrait of an age-old plight.

12/14/2020
Canal Dreams

Canal Dreams

The Panama Canal, one of the world's greatest feats of engineering, is an unusual setting for a thriller; and Hisako Onoda, an unlikely heroine. This slowly unfolding story lulled me into a false sense of security so that the ensuing bloodbath came as a shock. When the narrative slips into Hisako's past, it goes some way towards explaining the complexity of her character and makes for several moving moments. Definitely one to recommend.

12/7/2020
Crumbs

Crumbs

Set in Slovenia region before the break up of Yugoslavia. Egon and his friends, fellow writers, factory workers, prostitutes, and hermits, eke out a precarious and, for them, normal daily existence in a dreary factory town. Funny, violent, cruel and depressing but still the friends support each other and pursue their obsessions (like Cartier aftershave). Egon is an interesting, serious, slightly mad character. Loved the staccato writing style.

11/30/2020
Dear Child

Dear Child

Creepy thriller about an abduction, partly narrated by a small child - Lisa. In this case the house in the woods is lived in by a male ‘witch’ with a God syndrome - with Lisa is his 'Gretel' victim. Also it is about family values and the power of the media to manipulate people’s opinion of the crime. The voice of the child makes it even more haunting and I finished this in no time.

11/23/2020
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Set in the 1990’s LGBTQ+ community in America, Paul is a shape-shifter, who can alter their body from male Paul to be female Polly; their gender and sexuality are both fluid. Though I didn't always like Paul/Polly, I was utterly caught up in their life. Encompassing masses of pop culture, plenty of smut, and both tragedy and comedy throughout, this is a wild, fast, addictive read.

11/16/2020
The Girl with the Louding Voice

The Girl with the Louding Voice

This brutal coming of age story, narrated by the spirited and endearing fourteen year old Adunni in the poetic cadences of her local vernacular, paints a vivid account of the role of women in the toxic patriarchal culture of Nigerian society. Though heartbreaking, the verve and compassion of the writing makes this an immersive and uplifting experience.

11/9/2020
Ankomst

Ankomst

The formula: lone woman staying in remote cabin; the outcome: an intense and immersive reading experience. This story poses more questions than answers: why should a woman feel guilty for spending time away from her child? Is the unnamed character, a scientist, someone I can trust? Are there phenomena which science cannot explain? Not a book to be read late at night when you are home alone, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

11/2/2020
Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones is a journey through the life and times of a 1970's rock band. Told in the form of interviews from all the protagonists, you'll find yourself piecing together the story of the band's rise to stardom, and the parallel stories of Daisy and Billy. And it's not a cosy ride. It feels very authentic, vivid. The era comes alive and I am sure that by the end of the book you'll have convinced yourself that you've heard these songs before.

10/26/2020
Love Notes from a German Building Site

Love Notes from a German Building Site

Introspective novel about Paul, a young Irish builder who goes living in Berlin with his girlfriend Evelyn. As he is working on the site, his thoughts meander from the meaning of German words, his relationship with Evelyn and her parents and the beauty of German culture and the city. Seemingly without plot, this is a book to be slowly savoured.

10/19/2020
Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic

A crumbling house, rotten, moldy walls, a family secret and eccentric people. Not what glamorous Noemí expects when she decides to visit her niece after a worrying letter from her. Catalina, just married to an Englishman, lives in a very old Mexican mansion in the country. What Noemí finds defies all belief. I really enjoyed this over the top and creepy tale of romance and horror. Well written, with lots of suspense and a bit of mycology.

10/12/2020
Things My Mother Told Me

Things My Mother Told Me

Anjali is someone you'll want to root for. Even with her mistakes and romantic missteps you'll stick by her. She is central to the feel good factor that runs through this book. There is a balance, perfectly struck, between the funny and serious in Anjali's story, and that of her sister and their Sri Lankan mother. That perfect balance is also evident in how the cultural divide between Anjali's Sri Lankan and English identities is portrayed.

10/5/2020
Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

There's one question that runs through this book - what would you do if you could go back back in time, who would you meet? It's the question facing the four different characters and one that will undoubtedly cross the reader's mind. But this is not a time travelling adventure. It's a more a story where characters face up to their regrets, relationships and to things lost. A simply told, beautiful story of four parts, set in a Tokyo cafe.

9/28/2020
Freshwater

Freshwater

Like a multiplex of images reflected in a cracked mirror, this story presents a fractured and disturbed protagonist. This is a harrowing book, sucking the reader into a vortex of self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide. The narrative thread loops backwards and forwards: a shifting version of what went before. Rooted in the author's own experience, it is a perplexing work of profound imagination and quite unlike anything I've ever read.

9/21/2020
Key to Treehouse Living

Key to Treehouse Living

Don’t be put off by the fact this book is written entirely as a glossary. I worried it was a literary gimmick, but soon found myself caught up in William’s life, and his unusual way of capturing moments, ideas and feelings. It’s a strange way to tell a story, but I found it funny, moving, and a unique reading experience!

9/14/2020
The Black Tides of Heaven

The Black Tides of Heaven

Twins born to be raised as monks, but their destiny is to be parted. Starting of as a fantasy fairy tale this novella draws you into a magical world where good and evil struggle for power. Gradually, the picture became clearer and guessing moved forward to a better understanding. The sometimes shrouded language and the fluidity of gender give it a mythical quality wherein basic human needs are still paramount. (#1 in a series of four).

9/7/2020
My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

This powerful and challenging story seriously threw me off-kilter. Vanessa Wye is a complex character, not always easy to like or get a handle on. Graphic scenes of sexual abuse made me recoil, but I still read compulsively late into the night. A sure-footed debut which makes you appreciate the lasting effect abuse has on the victim and the courage it takes for them to acknowledge it.

8/31/2020
Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone

This elegiac series of vignettes, written in an evocative jazzy prose style, deals with the impact of class and race history on a black American family, leaving a raw emotional legacy across the generational lines. The narrative is told from alternating perspectives, with a poignancy and universality which will find resonance in the current climate of identity politics. The audio version is highly recommended for a fully immersive experience.

8/24/2020
Sharks in the Time of Saviours

Sharks in the Time of Saviours

I was blown away by this strong debut. By the language, the description of the stark nature of Hawai’i, the people in it. Noa, touched by the Gods according to his mother but suffering for it. Brother Dean, the basketballstar and sister Kaui, ambitious student. Their wish to become someone, to be loved for who they are. But life is throwing them a curveball. Stunning reading.

8/17/2020
Barn 8

Barn 8

Three short sentences can hardly describe the whole range of impressions I got while reading this. Compassion for Janey, sympathy for the cause she gets involved in, extremely high appreciation for style and expression, experiencing languidness and urgency at the same time. So many voices, so many viewpoints, so many layers. I imagine great discussions with friends. A turbulent, mindblowing, unique ride…

8/10/2020
The Summer of Reckoning

The Summer of Reckoning

The Luberon, Provence - a landscape of quaint hilltop villages overlooking rolling fields of lavender. Don't let the romance of the setting fool you, this is a story of disaffected lives longing for escape. The chemistry between sisters Céline and Jo is brilliantly realised, the summer heat palpable, stoking a simmering pot of teen sex, racism and violence until it boils over. Grim and gritty is my genre of choice, I loved it!

8/3/2020
Beast

Beast

Six perspectives on one young woman's murder. Who did lock Lizzie in the tower? Are the three convicted men really to blame? And who created the Dead in Six Days challenge? A tense and shocking story of a seemingly innocent game ending with disastrous consequences. As the story was told by different observers I felt buffeted between belief and incredulity. Whatever the truth, the result is heartbreaking for everyone including us.

7/27/2020
Writers and Lovers

Writers and Lovers

This intimate novel follows wannabe writer Casey's growth into adulthood, her search for love and the fulfillment of her dream. The pointed observations about the uncertainty of a young woman after the recent death of her mother, her love-life and the pretensions of writers are striking and punctuated with humour.

7/20/2020
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

The disappearance of children is investigated by 9 yr old Jai and two pals who live in a ‘basti’ (communal village) near a railway line in India. Beautiful descriptions of the ever changing weather and light, the noise and the smells, especially of food as the children are always hungry. Very funny despite the dangers the children face and the horrors that unfold. A brilliant debut novel long listed for the Women’s Prize 2020. I loved it.

7/13/2020
Saving Lucia

Saving Lucia

Drawing on the lives of four women linked by mental illness, this novel touches on many themes: alternative history, personal legacy and the power of imagination. The psychiatric hospital setting lends an air of claustrophobia. I grappled too with a fragmented, digressive narrative but my perseverance paid off. These are fascinating characters vividly portrayed, making it one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time.